Thursday, April 4, 2013

Remembering the Women of Early Kansas

March 14, 2013

This is the first in a series of blogs for National Women's History Month

"I tell you but for the women of Kansas, it would have been abandoned in one week . . ."

On September 15, 1879, James Rogers spoke these words at the Old Settlers meeting in Bismarck Grove, Kansas. The gathering celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Kansas settlement. He went on to describe the character of a woman in Kansas Territory:

"It seems to me that she must have been inspired of heaven during all those hours of our distress, for when the man grew weak, the woman grew strong. When the men became timid, the women became the more brave. When the men despaired, the women inspired them with hope."

One of those women, Julia Louisa Lovejoy, attended the meeting. Mrs. Lovejoy traveled with her husband, Reverend Charles Lovejoy, and their three children, to Kansas in 1855. Shortly after arriving, the couple's youngest daughter, Edith, died after contracting measles. At the settlers' meeting, she expressed her thoughts about those early days and her feelings about Kansas:

"In 1854 we christened Kansas and oh! I remember it well. Everybody seemed to be enthused with the spirit of freedom's crusade . . . We mothers have passed through a trying ordeal, but we can look back over the ground with a swell of pride in our hearts when we think of the glorious results as we have them before us now."

March 22, 2013      

 This is the second in a series of blog posts for Women's History Month

Boasting forty-two members from a population of two hundred, the Moneka Women's Rights Assocation of Moneka, Kansas Territory, committed themselves early on to fight for equality for women. Chartered in February 1858, the group organized themselves in a town that had itself been founded in Linn County in eastern Kansas just the previous year. The group included several male members. The dedication of the membership to their cause showed the character of a community still struggling to provide the basics for its citizens.

Here are words from the Association's Preamble:

"Because, Woman is constituted of body and mind and has all the common wants of the one and the natural powers of the other

Because she is a progressive being ever out-growing the past and demanding a higher and greater future - or in other words,

Because she is a Human Being and as such is endowed by her Creator with the full measure of human rights whether educational, social or political . . ."

The group petitioned the Territorial legislature to enact laws to protect women's rights, including a woman's right to retain any property that she possessed before marriage and a woman's right to a "just proportion of the joint property of the husband and wife acquired during marriage."

One of the Association's credos, adopted at the February 27, 1858 meeting, read:

"Whereas women can not vote and yet feel the necessity of just laws, therefore Res. that every woman in Kansas who believes that equal rights belong to women should consider herself a committee of one whose duty it is to do all in her power to convert to her views at least one legal voter."

Those legal voters to be targeted? Men, the only legal voters.

National Women's History Month brings attention to many prominent women in our history. But let us not forget groups like the Moneka Women's Rights Association who played an important part in the struggle for women's equality.

This is the third post in honor of National Women’s History Month

Like most citizens of New England, Lucy Larcom had never seen the broad expanse of Kansas. But also like most citizens of New England in 1855, she had heard about, and had strong feelings about, the slavery question and how it should play out in the new territory.

Lucy had been born in Beverly, Massachusetts and lived in Lowell as a young woman, a town also home to poet and Free-state proponent John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier encourage Lucy, an aspiring writer. In 1855, while a teacher at Monticello Female Seminary, Lucy heard about a contest sponsored by the New England Emigrant Aid Company calling for a Kansas poem. The New England Emigrant Aid Company was organized to assist in making Kansas a free state and was strangely both a money-making endeavor and a charitable operation. The group encouraged migration to the state and assisted eastern emigrants with many aspects of their travel, especially by conducting organized settlement parties.

Lucy's entry, "The Call to Kansas," won the fifty dollar prize. The poem was set to music and served as an anthem for many who left their comfortable homes in New England for the Kansas frontier.

Here is the opening verse:

Yeomen strong, hither throng,
Nature's honest men!
We will make the wilderness
Bud and bloom again.
Bring the sickle, speed the plough,
Turn the ready soil!
Freedom is the noblest pay
For the true man's toil.
Ho, brothers! Come brothers!
Hasten all with me!
We'll sing upon the Kansas plains
A song of liberty!

When contacted in 1891 by the Kansas Historical Society to comment on the poem, Lucy said that the poem brought back many memories of the Kansas border struggles and the excitement that the situation there caused in New England. She commented, "I have always hoped to visit Kansas, but never found opportunity to do so." Her words did travel to Kansas, however, with thousands of others.


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